Create a Healthier TV Habit

Create a Healthier TV Habit

What boosts your risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and could shorten your life by five years? Your TV. Current research is showing that watching too much is a major health hazard. In one new study, binge-watching boosted the risk for metabolic syndrome (some combo of excess body fat, high blood sugar levels, increased blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol/triglyceride levels) by a whopping 30%!

But we’re not going to scold you, tell you to shut it off or advise you to toss your new flat screen out the window. Because if you’re like us, you enjoy TV -- whether its sports (Dr. Mike faithfully tunes in for Cleveland Cavaliers’ away games), Sunday morning news shows with your favorite pundits or Dr. Oz’s daily dose of life-changing health info. But what if you’re way over the top with TV time?

The average American watches a five to seven hours of TV per day. A Danish study of 1.1 million people (and they bike a lot) observed that sitting just two hours a day increased risk for diabetes by 20%, for heart disease by 15% and for an early death by 13%. Next up, according to the landmark Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study that’s tracking the health and habits of 11,000 adults, six hours of daily TV could shorten your life by five years. And prolonged TV time raised colon cancer risk by 54% in a major German study.

TV’s dangerous because long periods of sitting mess with your metabolism, interfering with your body’s ability to burn fat and sugar for energy. If you snack while you sit, you’re piling on calories and pounds, too. And if you trade an hour or two of sleep to catch late-night TV, you’re creating a sleep deficit that boosts risk for obesity and diabetes.

Build a healthy TV habit, with these steps:

Move while you watch.  Bring your exercise bike, treadmill or other favorite piece of exercise equipment into the same room with your TV. Stow your hand weights, exercise bands and an exercise mat there, too. Then plan to stay active while you watch. You could work out during commercials or continuously. Just make a rule: You can keep watching only if you keep moving. That’s what Dr. Mike does and it works.

The good news: TV can help you stick with exercise -- and may be better than going to the gym. In a study from the University of North Carolina, people who watched videos while they listened to music (kind of like the experience you have watching TV) said their routine felt easier than those who just stared at a wall while exercising. The longer the workout, the easier it felt. And in other research, exercisers who could watch their favorite TV shows were least likely to drop out of a 14-week exercise program. People were more likely to give up if they couldn’t choose their own shows (the way it is at many gyms -- and we know how few people really go after they sign up and pay for the facility).

Pick something funny. Love to snack while you watch a movie? Grab veggies…and a comedy.   In research from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, people who watched the tragedy Solaris ate 55% more popcorn than those who saw the comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And those that viewed the sappy Love Story ate 28% more popcorn than those watching the funny movie Sweet Home Alabama. A comedy could also motivate you to exercise. In a Netflix poll of 1,000 viewers, 36% said they preferred working out while watching shows that made them laugh.

Watch something healthy…especially if you love TV recipes. Don’t feast your eyes on big-calorie foodie-food shows. For a good supply of healthy recipes, check out The Dr. Oz Show for daily food ideas that taste as good as they look!

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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